While there are some emergency foods that have an extremely long shelf life, that doesn’t mean they are the best survival foods. In my opinion, the best survival foods are the canned foods and pantry foods we will eat on a regular basis.

Most articles you read about “prepping food with the longest shelf life” will talk about dried beans, rolled oats and dehydrated food. While all of these do have the longest shelf life when it comes to our emergency food storage, not everything needs to last 25 years.

In this article I want to go over the shelf life of canned goods, and other foods we have in our kitchen. These foods will taste better, get used regularly, and will be shelf stable for years.

I’ll be going over some survival foods we can store right in our kitchen, as well as some spices and drinks. All of these together help round out our long-term food storage plans.

The Enemies of Food Storage

Before I get into what the best canned foods and other shelf stable foods are for preppers, I want to go over some food storage best practices. I also want to cover a few things that will drastically reduce how long our food will remain safe to eat.

Temperature: To maintain the optimal shelf life of your food storage, foods should be stored at 75° (room temperature) or lower. Large temperature fluctuation and heat will destroy the foods nutritional value and reduce it’s shelf life.

Moisture: The reason foods like rice and beans last for decades is because of the lack of water in them. This is important as you are putting together your food storage pantry.

Oxygen: The reason canned foods last so long is the absence of air. Microorganisms need oxygen to thrive, leading to faster deterioration of your food storage.

Light: Foods that are exposed to light can also deteriorate quickly. This is called photodegradation, degrading its nutritional value, taste, and appearance.

Teenagers: OK, I added this myself, but I am only half joking. Rarely will anyone dig into your dehydrated long term food storage products, but the pantry is a different story. This is why inventory and rotation are so important.

Best Buy Dates and Expiration

Most people don’t pay attention to the words right before the date printed on the food product. There is a big difference between the best buy, use by and sell by dates.

This is important because when it comes to our prepping food supply, the longer our food will last the better. Throwing food away that isn’t expired is just like throwing away money.

Best Buy Date: This is a suggestion from the food manufacturer for which date the product should be consumed to assure it’s peak quality. This does not mean the food goes bad by that date.

Use By Date: This date is usually printed on food that needs to be refrigerated, or food that is high in fats and oils. This actually is an expiration date.

Sell By Date: This is a suggestion from the food manufacturer to the retailer. If food is past the sell by date, it doesn’t mean it’s expired, but we should avoid adding it to our long-term food storage.

The Best Survival Foods and Expiration Dates

Keep in mind as you read this list of best canned food and other pantry foods for preppers that the dates listed are “best buy” dates and not “expiration” dates.

The reason I did this is because I wanted to list the minimum amount of time these long-term food storage products will last.

How long these foods will actually last is depends on a number of factors, and is a little objective. I’ll do my best to give you an idea about what you can realistically expect from these longer shelf life foods.

Depending on how far you want to take your survival food storage plan, some of these expiration dates can be extended. This can be done by repackaging them with mylar bags, oxygen absorbers and 5 gallon buckets.

Best Pantry Food Shelf Life

Pantry foods are a great way to add food your family eats on a daily basis to your survival food storage. While there are many different options when it comes to your prepping food storage pantry, I listed 24 here to give you some ideas.

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Food Storage Best Buy and Expiration Date Chart

Some pantry foods don’t last as long past their best buy dates as canned foods do. Some of these foods need refrigeration after they are opened, and some will go stale rather than spoil.

With that being said, most of these pantry foods will last at least a year past the best buy date if not longer.

Best Canned Food for Preppers

Most best buy dates on canned foods range from 1 to 4 years. If you keep your canned food in a cool, dark place and the cans are in good condition (not dented), you can likely safely double canned food shelf life.

Again, the image below is has the “best buy” date you will see listed on the canned food at the Grocery store, not the “expiration dates” of these canned foods.

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Canned Food Best Buy Date and Expiration Date Chart

While it’s feasible that some of these canned foods would last decades, they will lose nutritional value, and the color and texture will change over time.

There are a few things that can make your canned food go bad regardless what the date on the can says. Dented cans, bulging, and corrosion can all affect your canned food shelf life.

UrbanSurvivalSite has a great article titled “10 Signs Your Canned Food Has Spoiled”. It’s always a good idea to check you canned food as you are rotating it, and discard anything that might be questionable.

Your Prepper Food Storage Spice Cabinet

When it comes to our survival food storage plans, spices tend to get overlooked. This could be because our spice cabinets are loaded down with who know what, or because our focus is on calories not flavor.

Spices can take a meal you make from your long-term food from being plain old “prepper food” to a meal your family will enjoy. Some spices like salt, sugar and pepper are in everyone’s spice cabinet, but the others coincide with your ability to cook from scratch.

Here is a list of some of the spices I have in my spice cabinet that I use quite a bit. Your list may be different, but here are my 20 “must have” disaster spices.

  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Pepper (lot’s of it!)
  • Baking Powder
  • Cinnamon
  • Garlic Salt
  • Garlic Powder
  • Onion Salt
  • Onion Powder
  • Parsley
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Bouillon Cubes
  • Paprika
  • Chili Powder
  • Lemon Pepper
  • Baking Powder
  • Cumin
  • Cilantro
  • Cayenne Pepper

Do Spices Go Bad?

Spices do not spoil, so from a safety perspective that isn’t an issue. When it comes to flavoring our food it’s a different story all together.

As a general rule, whole spices will stay fresh for about 4 years, ground spices for about 3 to 4 years and dried leafy herbs for 1 to 3 years.

Washing it All Down

The whole point of this article is that just because disaster strike, doesn’t mean we have to eat bland freeze dried food. The same holds true for what we drink.

In any sort of extended disaster situation we are going to want something more than plain water. While flavored drinks and other beverages are not “survival Supplies” they are necessary conveniences.

Here are 10 alternatives to basic drinking water that I came up with and their best buy dates…

  • Coffee (9 Months)
  • Tea Packets (1 Year)
  • Mio (18 Months)
  • Powdered Drink Mixes (2 Years)
  • Beer (6 – 9 Months)
  • Alcohol (2 – 10 Years)
  • Soda (9 Months)
  • Canned Juices (2 – 5 Years)
  • Powdered Milk (2 – 25 Years)
  • Cocoa Mix (1 Year)

Alternatives For Refrigerated Foods

One of the biggest problems we could face in a grid down event is it rendering our refrigerators useless. While there are some options like using a power inverter, these are only options in a short term disaster.

There are a few companies that make alternatives for refrigerated foods like Augusan Farms and Honeyville. These companies sell foods like powdered milk, powdered eggs, fruits and even powdered peanut butter.

Some of these foods can get a little pricey, but if you buy some here and there it makes it a little more palatable. These also last for 10 to 20 years, so there aren’t something you need to use on a regular basis.

Your Ideas?

While there are a lot of survival foods on this list, it really only touches the surface of long-term food storage for preppers. If you have any thoughts about what you store, or how to extend the shelf life of these food storage products, leave a comment below.


Survival and being prepared should not only be a passion, it should be a lifestyle. The definition of a prepper is "An individual or group that prepares or makes preparations in advance of, or prior to, any change in normal circumstances, without substantial resources from outside sources" Like the Government, police etc. I don't believe that the end of the world will be the "end of the world" I believe it will be the end of the world as we know it now. You can also find me on Google Plus and Twitter

    1 Response to "The Best Survival Food: Canned Food and Pantry Food Shelf Life"

    • todd beckley

      If you would use a foodsaver in which you take the air out will some last longer

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